The End of Oulipo?

The End of Oulipo? My book (co-authored with Lauren Elkin), published by Zero Books. Available everywhere. Order it from Amazon, or find it in bookstores nationwide. The End of Oulipo

Lady Chatterley’s Brother

Lady Chatterley's Brother. The first ebook in the new TQC Long Essays series, Lady Chatterley's Brothercalled “an exciting new project” by Chad Post of Open Letter and Three Percent. Why can't Nicholson Baker write about sex? And why can Javier Marias? We investigate why porn is a dead end, and why seduction paves the way for the sex writing of the future. Read an excerpt.

Available now from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and direct from this site:

Translate This Book!

Ever wonder what English is missing? Called "a fascinating Life Perecread" by The New Yorker, Translate This Book! brings together over 40 of the top translators, publishers, and authors to tell us what books need to be published in English. Get it on Kindle.

For low prices on Las Vegas shows visit

You Say

  • Neil G: Think of how less juvenile Marilynne Robinson's writing woul
  • Padraic: Funny, I had no idea Phillip Roth grew up in the Midwest...
  • Ryan Ries: Yeah, what exactly does the Midwestern thing mean? It appea
  • Bernie: Whoa now, mind your Midwestern readers there...
  • Gs: There seems to me an important facet of fiction revealed in
  • David Long: This is a list I posted a few days ago: 25 REASONS TO THA
  • Padraic: I think Saramango gives Coetzee a pretty good run for most a

Group Reads

The Tunnel

Fall Read: The Tunnel by William H. Gass

A group read of the book that either "engenders awe and despair" or "[goads] the reader with obscenity and bigotry," or both. Info here. Buy the book here and support this site.

Naked Singularity

Summer Read: A Naked Singularity by Sergio De La Pava

Fans of Gaddis, Pynchon, DeLillo: A group read of the book that went from Xlibris to the University of Chicago Press. Info here. Buy the book here and support this site.

Life Perec

Life A User's Manual by Georges Perec

Starting March 2011, read the greatest novel from an experimental master. Info here. Buy the book here and support this site.

Last Samurai

Fall Read: The Last Samurai by Helen DeWitt

A group read of one of the '00s most-lauded postmodern novels. Info here. Buy the book here and support this site.

Tale of Genji

The Summer of Genji

Two great online lit magazines team up to read a mammoth court drama, the world's first novel.

Your Face Tomorrow

Your Face This Spring

A 3-month read of Javier Marias' mammoth book Your Face Tomorrow

Shop though these links = Support this site

Ten Memorable Quotes from William Gaddis’ Letters

New Books
Here are ten of my favorite moments from these hugely interesting letters.

Interviews from Conversational Reading

New Books
See this page for interviews with leading authors, translators, publishers, and more.

  • Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay by Elena Ferrante September 16, 2014
    Few novelists have captured the rhythms and flow of life with the veracity of Elena Ferrante in her Neapolitan Novels. Following the friendship between Elena Greco and Lila Cerullo from childhood to old age, the tetralogy spans fifty years; over the course of that time, no emotion is too small, too dark, too banal to be recorded. No expense, so to speak, is […]
  • Trieste by Daša Drndić September 15, 2014
    As Drndić reiterates throughout the novel, “Behind every name there is a story.” And Haya Tedeschi’s story is draped in death. Born to a Jewish family that converted to Catholicism and tacitly supported the Fascists in Italy, Haya was a bystander to the Holocaust. She attended movies while Jews and partisans were transported to concentration camps; she pored […]
  • The Tree With No Name by Drago Jančar September 15, 2014
    At the opening of chapter 87—the first chapter found in The Tree with No Name—Janez Lipnik finds himself up a tree, shoeless, and lost in the Slovenian countryside. He makes his way to a house where he is taken in by a woman teacher who is waiting for her lover, a soldier. It becomes clear we are at the height of World War II. Soon after, we follow Lipnik […]
  • Kjell Askildsen, Selected Stories September 15, 2014
    Here, at the midpoint of his narrative, Bernhard, the affectless and purposeless protagonist of "The Unseen," experiences existential near-emancipation at dusk. This retreat toward obscurity in terse, direct language—thematic and stylistic markers of each work in the collection—comes immediately after Bernhard’s sister mentions her plans to enterta […]
  • Berlin Now by Peter Schneider September 15, 2014
    In his new book of essays, Berlin Now, Peter Schneider reveals himself as a gnarled Cold Warrior who has been stricken with many of the maladies common to his generation. With the specter of Communism exorcized, his new enemy is Islam. The book is a collection of short interlocking pieces introducing Anglophone readers to Berlin; it is not being published in […]
  • Paris by Marcos Giralt Torrente September 15, 2014
    In 1999, Marcos Giralt Torrente’s debut novel, Paris, was awarded the XVII Premio Herralde de Novela prize. Despite his success, it took fourteen years for Giralt’s work to appear in English, with the story collection The End of Love arriving in 2013. Now, this year sees the publication of two more books by Giralt: Paris, translated by Margaret Jull Costa, a […]
  • 10:04 by Ben Lerner September 15, 2014
    “It seemed that the [New Yorker] story—which was in part the result of my dealing with the reception of my novel—had been much more widely received than the novel itself,” says the narrator of Ben Lerner’s second novel, 10:04. Perhaps this narrator is Lerner himself—at one point he describes 10:04, within its own pages, as “neither fiction nor nonfiction but […]
  • Theories of Forgetting by Lance Olsen September 15, 2014
    Lance Olsen’s Theories of Forgetting is a masterful work structured around Robert Smithson’s earthwork “The Spiral Jetty.” Olsen’s novel is comprised of three narrations, written each by a separate member of a family. The husband’s and wife’s texts progress in opposite directions across the book, with each page divided among these two inverted texts; though […]
  • An Interview with Lance Olsen September 15, 2014
    The most substantial may be that innovative fiction knows what it is, that someone like me could define it in any productive way, that innovative fiction might somehow be one thing, or somehow consistent through time and space. None of these is the case. That’s exactly what I find most exciting about writing it, reading it, thinking about it. Innovative fict […]
  • The Ants by Sawako Nakayasu September 15, 2014
    In The Ants, we receive a study of existence through ants. That is, there are ants everywhere, ants substituted in every segment of the landscape, yet their behavior seems to reveal something altogether human. Too human. The ants are crushed and disappointed. They are warm and many. They are involved in gang wars and live inside carrot cake. The unique quali […]

The Reading Crisis

n + 1 has an article up about "The Reading Crisis." (Link goes to the n + 1 main page since they don’t seem to have a permalink to the article.) I like n + 1, but I think I need a little more from them than this. Basically, the article (I guess it’s written by "The Editors") is bemoaning the fact that our so-called reading crisis now makes it excusable for authors to hawk their books in all manner of creative (sometimes demeaning) ways.

A real debate could be had about all these things. Instead we get the “reading crisis.” Under conditions of the reading crisis, everything a writer does, no matter how self-serving and reprehensible, becomes a blow in the service of literature. An arbiter of a “revolution” in reading features games, accordionists, and contests at his public events. A best-selling author sends out emails asking acquaintances to buy his new book before it slips off the Times top-seller list—because without these sales-markers, classic works can disappear. A blogger-author roams bookstores putting advertisements in books reminiscent of her own: “If you liked this, you’ll love The Tattle-Tale.” And these figures are held up as models of the hopeful signs for a renaissance in reading.

Well, okay, I guess it’s fair to complain about this, but I don’t see The Editors offering any solutions. What should authors do? Just manfully abide like good stoics and hope their books sell?

And also, author self-whoring isn’t exactly new. I don’t think you can ascribe it tall o a changed climate brought on by a decline in general reading. No, no, the industry has been moving toward this for some time now.

Blame the industry, the authors, or just plain old crass commercialism, but sales-generating acrobatics on the part of authors are now expected by publishers. Not to mention that many authors, after they discover that their publishers will give their book virtually no attention, instead lavishing hundreds of thousands on a few lead titles, practically beg for the chance to whore themselves out.

I guess my point is you can blame authors for doing this if you what, but what the hell else are they supposed to do? And do we really need a whole editorial lambasting authors for bowing to market forces? Not to mention, didn’t Benjamin Kunkel just do a huge PR blitz for his book? Oh, but articles in the Times and The New Yorker are part of the dignified approach to bookselling. The good old genteel tradition of back slapping and goodoldboy networks.

I’ve got nothing again people who want to critize the sorts of things authors are forced to do to sell their books. I agree, it’s screwed up. But let’s try to realize that it’s not completely the author’s fault. And if you think this is a bad state of affairs, then how about telling us what should be done about it?

You Might Also Like:

More from Conversational Reading:

  1. Long Tails Dan Green points to an article that tells us: "The average Barnes & Noble carries 130,000 titles. Yet more than half of Amazon’s book sales...
  2. Decline of reading in America Someone go call Kevin Smokler and ask him what he makes of this. Faced with declining sales, two of the biggest publishers of mass-market titles,...
  3. People Don't Read Borges? Jorge Luis Borges went from being an unknown middle-aged librarian to one of the 20th century’s most influential writers. So why do so few people...
  4. Listening ≠ Reading This is discouraging: Jim Harris, a lifelong bookworm, cracked the covers of only four books last year. But he listened to 54, all unabridged. ....
  5. A Sad Story of a First-Time Author This story, from the Columbia Journalism Review’s first annual books issue, is making the roundsof the lit blogs. It’s a pretty interesting read about how...

Related posts brought to you by Yet Another Related Posts Plugin.

14 comments to The Reading Crisis

  • ed

    Looks like we’re smoking the same ganja. :)

  • I’d have more respect for Kunkel without all the doe-eyed come-do-me publicity photos that seem to accompany media pieces on/by him.

  • Dickens and Twain did whatever they could do to publicize their works why should today’s authors be castigated for doing the same thing.

  • I’m not sure how a reading crisis and writers marketing themselves are related. How else do we get hear about new books? New writers? Writers have to compete in a marketplace where everything else is vying for attention. And it certainly seems better than having a patron who might dictate what you can or cannot publish.

  • And honestly, doesn’t the pull-out-all-stops marketing methods apply to everything sold these days? As long as I’m not getting spammed by authors (I am by bankers, mortgage companies, petroleum and drug companies)which these days is about the lowest you can go, I say more power to ‘em.


    We’re still technically on vacation so, really, nothing to see here. But this caught our eye and was too entertaining not to share. Since it isn’t available online, we painstakingly retype TLS’ marvelous NB column from the most recent issue:Norman


    We’re still technically on vacation so, really, nothing to see here. But this caught our eye and was too entertaining not to share. Since it isn’t available online, we painstakingly retype TLS’ marvelous NB column from the most recent issue:Norman


    We’re still technically on vacation so, really, nothing to see here. But this caught our eye and was too entertaining not to share. Since it isn’t available online, we painstakingly retype TLS’ marvelous NB column from the most recent issue:Norman

  • And if you think this is a bad state of affairs, then how about telling us what should be done about it?
    Once again, one can only refer the author of these remarks to the journal itself, specifically issue #2. There seems this odd sort of delay at work, wherein the blogly critics of this magazine’s third issue have suddenly decided to raise questions already dealt with in the second. Not that there isn’t more than ample substance in #3 of course…
    In the meantime, why stand in the way of a good thing? (Less importantly, why lend credence to impressivly deranged, bizarre chip-on-the-shoulder readings elsewhere?)
    Really, why? Is it jealousy? Must the Blogs be continuously fed and appeased? Speaking more abstractly, of course.
    Though, to be unecessarily blunt, perhaps you could stand to think a bit more critically here, about the place you may occupy–about the ways you (or rather litblogs in general) cannot fail to be implicated in the context of their actual critiques.
    And by “critiques” I mean the ones in the actual magazine, and in print. In issue #2, in this case.

  • Matt,
    Stop yourself. You’re really not doing yourself any good with these remarks.
    I’m all for intelligent comments, but this isn’t it. So you’re saying that I can’t criticize a poorly argued editorial because there was a previous article in a prior issue of n + 1 that dealt with the same topic? Matt . . . try making some fucking sense.
    Obviously you’re a real big fan of n + 1. Good for you. Why don’t you take the time you’re wasting here and put it into a nice big fan letter. Maybe if you’re really good about it Kunkel himself will come over and let you . . .

  • Very classy Scott…
    The advice on “what is good for me” is certainly appreciated, but there’s something I forgot to say:
    It occurs to me that if by some chance you actually do read the magazine (you now say you’ve read from it–that wouldn’t be just the online material by any chance now would it?)…and assuming you aren’t just trying to suck up to some other litblogger or other…then, sadly enough, these two posts are just plain philistine.
    How? Well if I must begin to spell it out:
    By failing to recognize how this article, in its serious tone, is entirely of a piece with that ongoing critique of ‘Eggers’ you now say you’ve read. Indeed, by failing to recognize how you yourself repeat the ‘Eggers’ mentality by so latching onto Kunkel as a stand-in for n+1 in general, as a cheap hook by which to attack something truly excellent and fragile.
    I didn’t want to think that was the case, but now it seems entirely more likely.
    Oh, and I should try making some fucking sense? Should I try finding a cheap angle to get my Eggers-like gossipy bit of facile take-down litblog fame?
    Look, this is a fantastic, highly original, highly intelligent magazine. Don’t take my word for it; subscribe. (They could abandon some of the more cutesy online stuff, sure.) There are good and complex claims worth criticizing and engaging with in that article; I don’t see it here.
    Not that it’s germane in the slightest to even mention, but I’m no huge fan of Kunkel. His writing by itself is by no means representative of n+1, in any case. I’ll simply repeat the question: why use philistine attacks on him as grounds to take gratuitous swipes at a fragile thing? (And why lend credence to others less careful and even more philistine?)
    If, on the other hand, you are sincere in your questions about the article, then you should be delighted to hear that they have already been substantially addressed in previous issues, am I wrong?
    The offer to share my copy still stands.

  • To be fair, that bit you cite from the article is also a bit of a cheap shot at blogger-authors.
    These divisions needn’t prove decisive, however. The fact that some bloggers seem inclined to up the ante of snark rather than self-critically reflect doesn’t exactly help, of course.
    Do you disagree that most blog-books are over-hyped crap, Scott? The article isn’t ruling out the possibility of something good; merely describing the climate we are in. The work of description is of course hardly important; on the contrary.

  • All right. Now you are making some sense. Thank you.
    “Read from the magazine” = I buy them and hold them in my pretty little hands, but I don’t read them cover to cover.
    I didn’t take the “Reading Crisis” article as part of their ongoing takedown of Eggers. Really, I thought that was satisfactorily accomplished in Issue 1.
    I likened Kunkel to Eggers because they are both the most highly publicized members of their respective journals/cliques. I imagine that n + 1′s ongoing takedown of Eggers has more than a little to do with Kunkel’s interest in being the new Eggers. As such, it think it’s fair to use Kunkel to stand in for n + 1 just as most of us use Eggers to stand in for McSweeney’s.
    Bottom line: Like anything else on this blog, n + 1 is not sacred. I’ve praised n + 1 and I’ve criticized it. I’m not trying to take it down any more than you are. I couldn’t. I thought it was a poor editorial, so I said so. I don’t really think, at this point, we need anyone to point out that authors are going to extreme efforts to get their readers. Beyond that, we disagree over whether it’s good or bad: I think it’s ok and somewhat forced on the authors, they think otherwise. We’re diagreeing. No one is taking down anyone.

  • As such, it think it’s fair to use Kunkel to stand in for n + 1 just as most of us use Eggers to stand in for McSweeney’s.
    Except of course that n+1 (the magazine, not Kunkel’s book) has four outstanding editors, while McSweeney’s has one shitty one.
    Ok, I’m done fawning now. Glad to hear you aren’t at all interested in facile take-downs. Surely it reflects better on us generally, to actively distance ourselves from those.

Leave a Reply




You can use these HTML tags

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>